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Art of Comforting Book


“Must reading for everyone…The message is instantly applicable as well as enormously comforting.”

—Christiane Northrup, M.D., New York Times bestselling author, Mother-Daughter Wisdom, The Wisdom of Menopause, and Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom

“…filled with clear examples and actionable steps that help readers effectively comfort those in need. Her voice is comforting, and some sections read like a memoir; her candid revelation of her own struggles reaffirms for the reader that a comforter does not always have to be strong.”

—Publishers Weekly

“With clarity, compassion and wisdom, Walker teaches the art and the craft of comforting others and ourselves. In today’s distressed and frenetic world, she does us all a great favor. She teaches us what we most need to know. This fine book is a resource for all those who want to be able to help friends, family members and other people who are in need of our kindness.”

—Mary Pipher, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of Reviving Ophelia, and The Shelter of Each Other

Image result for Nautilus Book awards

Nautilus Book Award Gold Medalist, Grief and Loss Category, 2011

Coalition of Visionary Resources Book Award, First Runner Up, Self-help Category, 2011

Recommended by the Boston Public Health Commission in their Guide for Survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Penguin/Random House Featured Title, There’s a Book for That: Hope, Healing, and Doing Good

The Art of Comforting is also published in a Chinese edition by the Taiwan publisher Business Weekly. This edition has been particularly successful as a handbook in China for understanding how to support grieving people from a Western point of view.

Read more on the Penguin Random House site.


Publish date: October, 2010, Penguin Random House

Trade Paperback Original
5-1/8 x 8
320 pages

What Others Are Saying

“…Readers are reminded to put the relationship first, even in our hectic, impatient world…A touching instructional for all who aspire to comfort the afflicted.”

—Grady Jones, Sacramento Book Review

“…a guide that will help us comfort loved ones dealing with serious adversity, illness, divorce, and death. Walker underscores the fact that it can be extremely satisfying to support the people who need us, and her book should help empower anyone wanting to be a better friend, family member, or partner.”

Larry Cox, Shelf Life Review, Tucson Citizen

“I can recommend this book for anyone who provides comfort and care on a professional or volunteer basis. Walker’s message is clear: Step outside of ourselves long enough to let the other person feel our undivided and supportive presence in their time of need. Good advice, and good book to have on hand.”

Dennis Rizzo, The Internet Review of Books

“We have been reduced by computers and ‘sound bytes’ to minimal and sometimes artless communication. But when someone near you is in real distress, it is hard to comfort them with ‘OMG’ or ‘WTF?’ The Art of Comforting gives us some real ways to connect on a personal level.”

—Alison Blackman Dunham, The Advice Sisters

“In this high-tech, fast-paced culture, it can be challenging to access our softer, empathic qualities. Walker restores our confidence by showing us step-by-step ways to offer comfort—to others as well as ourselves.”

—Susan Surabian, R.N., BSN, Chairperson, Palliative Care Committee, Redington-Fairview General Hospital, Skowhegan, Maine

“This warm and engaging book is full of practical suggestions for all those who suddenly find themselves in the role of ‘comforter,’ as well as for the professional nurturers among us who could use a new lease on our compassion. Just about eveything about how to be comforting is in this book—good listening tips, gentle words to say and write, comfort movies, comfort food, comfort music, handmade comfort gifts, comforting therapy dogs, and finding comfort in nature.”

—Michele Johns, Executive Director, Cancer Community Center, South Portland, Maine

Publishers Weekly Review

Walker, a bereavement coordinator and former rehabilitation counselor, set out to write the book she could not find: an accessible guide for comforting people in distress. Fortunately, she succeeds: her effort is filled with clear examples and actionable steps that help readers effectively comfort those in need. Walker interviews a nurse practitioner, a victims’ advocate, a minister, therapists, and others who use comforting skills in their daily work, providing a multifaceted and rich guide for caring. The “Words of Comforting” section explores what to say and what to avoid saying, both face to face and in writing. “The Comfort of Art” explains how the visual and performing arts can lend solace. “The Nature of Comforting” discusses the healing powers of animal therapy and connection with the outdoors. “A Little Guidebook to Comforting Things” lists movies, TV shows, books, music, and websites. A chapter on what do to when people resist comforting feels underdeveloped, but as a whole The Art of Comforting is a useful resource. Walker wisely emphasizes the importance of self-care and boundary-setting for comforters. Her voice is comforting, and some sections read like a memoir; her candid revelation of her own struggles reaffirms for the reader that a comforter does not always have to be strong.

Library Journal Review

In an effort to write the book she couldn’t herself find, rehabilitation counselor Walker discusses the nature of comforting and illustrates how to restore this most important skill. The whys of developing one’s ability to comfort lie in helping others feel relieved, validated, calmer, connected, and valued in the throes of life’s harsher moments. She offers suggestions for both verbal and nonverbal soothing, and even artistic ventures to explore with adults and children. Walker includes an extensive guide to comforting movies, TV, music, and websites in the final section of her book. Her message comes not only from experience, but from others in the grief/trauma counseling field, in this guidebook that rings true and pulls the reader in for more. Recommended for all interested adults.

Read more on the Penguin Random House site.                                      

About the Book

We live in an increasingly “virtual” world in which it can be tempting to skip making a true, human connection with someone in pain. Even though our thoughts are with them, we lack the confidence to reach out, worrying that we will say or do the “wrong” thing.

In this practical, step-by-step guide to what she calls “the art of comforting,” Val Walker draws on numerous interviews with “Master Comforters” to guide readers in gently and gracefully supporting those who are suffering. Interviewees include inspiring individuals such as Alicia Rasin, who, as a victim’s advocate for the city of Richmond, Virginia, has devoted her life to comforting grieving families devastated by homicide, gang violence and other traumatic experiences; or Patricia Ellen, who, as an outreach director at the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, Maine, appears on site to support and comfort children, staff and parents when a school is facing a death, violence or other crises.

All of us will, at one time or the other, be called upon to offer warmth and support to another human being in distress—this book will show you how to answer the call with an open heart.

An Excerpt From the Book

We Are All Comforting in our Own Ways

Though we know how it feels to be in the presence of a comforting person, we often doubt or undervalue our own innate ability to comfort others. We tend to compare ourselves to images and stereotypes of comforters in our culture. Unfortunately, many of us have gotten the message that only certain people can be truly comforting. We believe some people just have a knack for it, were born with it. We think one has to be exceptionally compassionate, charismatic, generous, or have years of training in counseling, social work or pastoral care to be qualified to comfort others. We think we should only comfort people who are going through things familiar to us, and not dare to help when we have little or no experience with their situation. Or we tell ourselves we don’t have enough available time on our hands for comforting, that we should leave it to our grandparents or other elders who are freer to give of their time.

These myths about being qualified for comforting have perpetuated stereotypes about comforters, upstaging our natural abilities and common sense. Sadly, we’ve come to believe we either need to be experts at comforting, or we need to be extraordinarily gifted at it. These idealized, self-imposed expectations can diminish our confidence in our own natural ways of caring for others, and can inhibit us when we are sitting with someone in distress.

Following are common myths about comforters that interfere with trusting our innate abilities to comfort others.

Common Myths About Comforters

Myth: Comforters are always warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely, and big huggers.

Comforting people can be shy, stoic, or reserved, and might prefer to help people in some not-so-touchy ways. The one who runs the errands is as comforting as the one who gives the hugs.

Myth: Comforters are only the ones with whom we have heart-to-heart talks.

We can comfort others in hundreds of ways: Buying their groceries, sending a thoughtful card, playing golf, going out together to a movie, knitting a scarf, walking their dogs. Comforting doesn’t always involve conversation.

Myth: Comforters always know what to say.

We don’t have to know the right thing to say. Sometimes there is really nothing that can be said. But comforters still offer to show up, even if we don’t know what to say, because there are many, many ways to connect and communicate, depending on what that person desires – listening to their favorite songs, bringing catnip for their cat, baking a meatloaf, dumping their trash, playing a game of cards, doing their nails, watching American Idol together. We offer our time and our presence, and see what happens. Even Tweeting our comfort in little ways helps, by saying, “I’m thinking about you now, and I hope you are getting through today.”

Myth: Comforters are always there when people need them. (“Call me if you need me.”)

We need to be honest about our availability to help, and communicate this clearly. It’s always better to be proactive in letting them know what we can actually do for them. We can offer a simple, concrete thing (“I can call you Monday night.”) People in distress suffer more when they are “left in the dark” about when contact will be made. No one wants to appear needy by having to call out for help.

Myth: Comforters have lots of time to provide enough comfort.

We can be comforting in a matter of minutes, even in seconds. Little acts of caring can make a big difference for someone in distress.

Myth: Comforters are supposed to cheer people up when they are down, and tell them to be positive.

Being comforting doesn’t mean showering the person in pain with “look at the bright side” platitudes. It is important to acknowledge that the person is in pain as opposed to attempting to get them to “snap out of it.”

Myth: Comforters need to have much in common with the person in distress to be effective.